Smartphones

Wearable Tech and Meaningful Changes in Health

Recently, our blog posts have discussed the role of technology in children’s lives today - specifically, smartphones and Internet safety. At CHIL, we’re also working with students to incorporate technology into their physical activity via our pedometer program.

 

“Wearable technology” like Fitbits and Apple Watches have exploded in popularity in recent years. Their popularity especially among students has inspired several extensive studies into the effectiveness of such devices for goals like weight loss. These studies have been published in influential publications like the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggesting their importance and relevance today. Many of these studies showed mixed results in the effect of having a Fitbit-like device on weight loss over time.

 

But it’s important to remember that while weight loss is potentially an easy, objective measure for researchers, it is not the only potential health benefit that comes from tracking day-to-day activity. It’s also not the only goal that students should have for themselves. Simply tracking physical activity can be a huge help for those who need to increase their daily activity levels - and that applies to many of us, and to students as well. Despite the federal recommendation that teens get at least one hour of exercise (moderate or rigorous) each day, 2012 data showed that only one in four teens get that hour, according to an article recently published by NPR.  The  Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reports that nearly half of American youths aged 12-21 years are not vigorously active on a regular basis.

 

Another article in NPR weighs some of the factors that could influence the effectiveness of wearable technology for fitness or activity. For example, while meeting daily fitness goals and step counts (the popular “10K a day”) could really motivate one person, failing to meet the same goal could discourage another from continuing to wear the device altogether. Also, meeting a daily goal could actually cause a person to “reward” him/herself with more calories. How, then, can we make these gadgets more effective? According to Dr. Mitesh Patel, who was interviewed in the NPR article, these devices are basically most effective when the people using them are “already dedicated to tracking their fitness.” Beyond the initial cost of an expensive device, there has to be a motivator that continues after the novelty of the gadget wears off.


What does this mean for students who are using less-pricey tools like those in our pedometer programs? These students can probably derive most of their long-term motivation not from the promise of weight loss but from the support they get from their school, friends, and family to be more active. The CDC agrees, pointing out that “well designed school-based interventions” and “social support from family and friends” are key in increasing physical activity for all teens. Our pedometer program seeks to do just that. For more information about our pedometer program, please click here.

Smartphones: A True Addiction?

A recent blog post talked about the need for mobile app designers to consider the active role that teens can and should play in staying safe online. It’s not just the responsibility of parents to restrict a teenager’s online presence. Instead, it’s much more productive for parents to team up with their children in order to start a conversation about Internet safety.

 

This week’s post involves one of the risks that parents are undoubtedly concerned about - the risk that teenagers are addicted to their smartphones. Anecdotally, we all can think of a parent disapproving of their children’s inability to look away from their phones for an extended period of time. This problem certainly is not unique to teenagers. Researchers are only beginning to find out what impact smartphones have on our health and our social networks.

 

An article in the NYTimes poses a compelling question: are teenagers replacing other addictive substances with their smartphones? There is good news and bad news that might suggest this is the case. The good news is that teen drug use (trying or regularly using drugs, including alcohol) has gone down in the past decade. This trend is true for all students overall regardless of their demographics. The bad or neutral news, depending on how you look at it, is that this is the same time period that smartphones have exploded onto the scene.

 

There is no way to prove that this coincidence is definitely a causal effect. There are far too many factors at play, including, but not limited to the financial crisis in the past decade, and the extensive anti-drug educational campaigns that might have started to pay off. Also, drug use among college students has not fallen in the same time period.

 

But it’s important to think about the implications of what some experts call a “portable dopamine pump” in a teenager’s everyday life. In the article, the writer explained that smartphones and their various apps provide feedback loops for users and the members of their social networks. Teens have said that they feel “really good” when using their phones for social media.  


Researchers are looking into this trend with a lot of interest, and so should we. The new “high” formed by excessive phone usage could shape teenagers’ social priorities and experiences for years to come.